The past always turns up like a bad penny, glinting in the sunlight, glistening in the moonlight. Copper and dirt, almost worthless, but not quite. You never know when you will need a bad penny to turn lucky, or a lucky penny will go bad. I am not quite a voodoo chile, but I ain’t drinking no bitches brew when I tell you that there is an undercurrent to this world that runs on nightmares, that deals in the unseen, the subconscious, the hidden by leaves and the spookily supranatural. I am never more sure of the magickal, the next world bleeding into our own than when I hear Hendrix set out his stall, and declare his belonging to the worlds inbetween worlds, that Voodoo Chile groove.
When Hendrix says he is a Voodoo Chile, who are we to deny him his identity, or discount his power? We do not exist in a world that is wholly mundane. Firing up Voodoo Chile causes Bony fingers reach out from graves and stroke my hair longing to drag me into their world as Baron Samedi is brought forth by Hendrix’s speaker switching call and return and his scratching acid soaked fading in and out of audio focus, tripping Hendrix yelping as the power starts to flow.
The adorned grand zombie is dressed as a hippy king for the burial, skull face grinning, flashing on top of Hendrix’s delicate features, top hat tipping, the sweet smell of tobacco and rum filling the air: my knees are bent for the maser. Only Baron Samedi can accept a soul into the realms of the dead. Hendrix knows the score, he is playing with dead things, putting the touch paper to his funeral pyre, “If I don’t meet you no more in this world/Then I’ll meet you in the next one/Don’t be late!” Hendrix owns his demi-rock-god status, and declares he is willing to pay the price for his communing with the power and the glory. He doesn’t just meet God on the mountain like Moses, he chops that thing down ‘with the edge of his hand’, picks up the pieces and makes an island. Who knows, he might even raise a little sand.
Any being who can create sound and fury so perfect may well be capable of such feats of ultimate creation. Hendrix the giver and taker of Time itself. Hendrix: that lucky penny always on the slight return, that graveyard dirt-diggin’ gris-gris, that sinistrous wielder of the Strat, and keeper of the flame fed by the soul of beautiful Izabella on the stage of Monterey, sacrificed to the voodoo spirits, the act of destruction creating one of the most iconic images of the heyday of rock and roll.
Charlo the child diety – the real Voodoo Chile of legend, brandishing his double headed axe, wears the crown of Godhood, is the keeper of the keys, enters the body of Hendrix, as his delicate fingers play across the fretboard. Legend has it that if a person encounters a strange child, a boy child who asks them for something, they should indulge his whims, for he might be Charlo. Clearly Hendrix/Charlo/the voodoo child asked for music from the very gods themselves and was mightily indulged. Every guitarist wants to play like Hendrix, not even Hendrix played like Hendrix. Hendrix played as a beautific altar ego, burning up the incense and the minds of every freak that really heard him.
Hendrix’s axe-guitar melding with the distinctive axe of Charlo’s identity, sending witches flying past on the sweeping broom of wings and desecrated prayers. Big Foot peeks round corners, always just out of reach, barely in sight, not ‘right here in your picture frame’, but instead that fuzzy figure in the moonlight that is never quite in focus: the rules of this mundane world will never allow it to be either seen or unseen. Instead our myths and legends, our incubus/succubus longings, that come in the night, as Hendrix insists, and make love to their victims in their sleep, birthing the genius of sound and fury that is the pinnacle of Hendrix’s art and craft.
After all this world down below has always had our demi god heroes and half-immortal heroines that declaring, “I’ll make love to you, I swear you’ll feel no pain”, making like Zeus ravishing Leda in the form of a swan, causing her fragile human frame to birth the nemesis of a nation in a clutch of eggs who are both of this world and not. This personification of electrical energy that flows through the fingertips of the Hendrix, that St Elmo’s fire flame on the water, the creative spark that needs no fire, that luminous plasma turned into the figure on a stage burning up the music, setting fire to the muse, taming the horsepower of the amps and creating some auspicious voodoo that only the strongest can tame or withstand.
Out of the doomed swan’s egg hatches genius, from the stolen longings of the Gods who cannot allow us here mortals to tread this earth unmolested. We all need a lucky penny, a rabbit’s foot, a thin red line of thread tied around the wrist: that evil eye hand of glory protection against the spirits that flow in on the wind and the rain and hide in the fog and are battened down by the supposed shame of insanity.
“We are all mad here!” the Cheshire Cat grins out from the pages of the adventures of Alice in Wonderland, wondering whether or not Maui might be a good place to take a trip. Eat me. Drink me. Hang out with Leary. Voodoo Chile isn’t so much an acid test as a whole degree of separation from the grey normality that sits on the other side of the veil from the world inhabited by Hendrix. Turn on, tune in and drop out. Those that play games with the tools of enlightenment, the chemical crutches that smash open doors of perception, that pay the ferryman his pretty penny, and return from the gates of hell itself, or at least the underworld come back with gifts. Gifts to give the world, or to themselves. Even if some of them eat all the mushrooms and take all the acid and never quite make that slight return to the world to deliver the message to us mere mortals. Imagine if Peter Green had made it back from his black forest pagan party! The Green Manalishi might have got down and dirty with the Voodoo Chile and carried off the blues to someplace new, or perhaps ancient and full of secrets. The juju demands its tribute in exchange for such badass knowledge. Sometimes it is everything a soul has got, even its autonomy and self-possession. Genius has a price: that lucky penny.
The gypsy might have been right – the enlightenment was contagious. Jim Morrison picked up Hendrix’s baton, and crassly screamed out amongst that soaring underwater haze of guitar and sound and vocals and bass and drums and shamanistic conjuring, and killed the eternal Zeus, that patriarchal figure that stands in the way of young men and must either be superseded or defeated. Morrison was a doofus with a winning smile and some college dorm poetry. Hendrix is a motherless child, a fatherless haint taking revenge on the world that enslaved his ancestors, and seeks to own and destroy and whitewash the black magick of Hendrix’s power. This kind of power scares the bejeezus out of the quiet mundane world and wakes up the watchtower guards. Gypsies ‘drop down dead’ when such children of the saints, half of this world, half of another are brought into this world, I suppose from the horror of seeing the short and sweet lives they live before the grave claims them all too soon, and the power of their presence burns them out young.
There is no answer to the questions Hendrix sought to answer: how far can an immortal push a Stratocaster, where can such creation lead, where is the secret beat that voodoo hearts drum along to, where are those chiming elusive harmonic magic touch pings that vibrate with something angelic in the brain of even the most grey of creatures, turning us all into phoenixes ready for the burning, renewed, refreshed, rehabilitated like Izabella, frozen in time given and taken, the mountains carved, the castles in the shifting and raised up by the hand of a devotee of Charlo, the Voodoo child, here and there, machine gun spitting on the killing floor of humanity where red wine and quaaludes can take out a demi god who coaxed if not the answers, some pretty big questions outta six strings and the blues.
Erzulie spills her perfume on the abattoir floor, her heart’s most passionate desire forever unfulfilled, Madame Brigette cursing the dark desires, as Hendrix twists up into the smoke and flames of the stage: the left hand of the God playing Voodoo Chile.